Marker Pens and Their Application to the Surfboard:
A Test of Chemistries and Application Modalities

By Thomas Gertsch
conducted at Cerritos College Fiberglass Technology Program

This test was created and conducted to demonstrate the different chemistries of markers (and paint pens) and their common applications related to the surfboard artist. Also, a goal of developing or validating a “best practices” workflow for the application of artwork to surfboards.

Permanent ink pens
Poster paint pens, water based
Poster paint pens, oil based
Tech ink pens
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) #2 (lb)
Epoxy Resin (Resin Research)

Some surfboard artists prefer the use of the paint pen markers because of their ability to create very detailed, harsh lines (as opposed to the airbrush and its gradient lay of paint) and the overall ease of application. This is in contrast to the softened, gradient like line created by the airbrush. In the application of airbrushing the additional care that must be taken to prevent overspray by the airbrush and masking issues may be time prohibitive. Furthermore, by applying paint pen markers after the glass stage, the possibility of glassing (including sanding or polishing) errors affecting the artwork is eliminated.

There are different types of inks and paint markers on the art market with each brand having a variety of inks, paints, and pigment and their associated recipes. This test looked at mostly Sharpie® Brand markers due to their accessibility in the US. There are additional international companies including the coveted Posca® by Uniball® but their availability is limited in the US. Additionally, COPIC®, a tech pen brand from Japan was used to expand this investigation.

The test composed of two basic usages. Pens (fig. 1) applied directly to EPS foam (2 lb foam) then covered with epoxy resin and 6oz fiberglass and Pens (fig 2) applied on top of epoxy resin and protected with aa acrylic clear coat spray(Krylon® brand). Overall, each situation yielded consistent results that have been recommended by surfboard artists. That is, water based paint pens are the best at color and bleed stability. In each of these situations 6 oz E glass was used to mimic actual board construction materials.

Figure 2. Test sheet 2. Markers on resin. Clear coat over ink.
In setting up the test material for lamination, it should be noted that a shrink film (3M® window shrink film a.k.a thermoplastic) was used to create a glossy finish from only the application of a laminate coat of resin. This application follows similar release film contact, albeit a heat gun was used to shrink the film and remove the wrinkles. Air bubbles were worked to the sides of the foam. (No hot coat or gloss coat was applied.) The window shrink film left an adequately smooth and glossy finish without the need for polishing making it ready to accept the markers/pens.

Figure 1. demonstrates drawing directly onto the foam withthe resin on top of the art. The advantages include protection from sand and other abrasions, and all artwork can be accomplished in one stage. The disadvantages to applying directly onto the foam includes a reduction of color saturation and vibrancy and the creation of colorized foam dust that negatively affects the glassing stage.
Drawing on top of the resin allows for the composite technician to focus on apply the resin and less on damage to the artwork. Furthermore, the smooth surface helps draw the paint out of the marker and reduce colored foam or marker lint from contaminating the work.

Results, interpretations of
While all markers met the task of appearing on the material, the markers that performed with the least bleed and best color saturation consisted of the Water Based Paint Pens (Only Sharpie® brand available in this investigation. Additionally, all inks and paints showed increased color vibrancy above the resin.)

Further investigations
This testing raises some additional questions in relation to this subject. Additional testing of the following situations would provide deeper insight into this application of paint pens.
These additional topics include:
o UV stability of pigments and assistance of being an underlayment in sandwich composite construction
o Oven baking Epoxy and the heat effect on paint
o Light pen colors (white, yellow, pink, pastels, etc.) on dark composite in appearance, visability and functionality

(above Fig 1.) Test sheet of markers used on EPS foam, UNDER epoxy resin.  

(above, Fig 2) Test sheet of markers used on TOP of epoxy resin. Acrylic clear coat sprayed to protect from abraision.